The word “forever” doesn’t compute in the American consumer market. We are a disposable society. But after the coming collapse, you better darn have some resources that could theoretically take care of your needs, “forever.” This week I am looking at some cutting edge survival lighting technology, and it just so happens they were made at the turn of the last century. Standard Oil Company was pushing their new “kerosene
fuel at that time, hoping to replace whale oil where natural gas could not be piped, and they came out with a newly patented product called the “center draft lamp.” Mostly these lamps were made under the name “Rayo,” but you will find lamps under several names that use the same idea. The wick on a center draft lamp is round, and it fits down over the draft tube. You may have read my article on flat wick kerosene lamps, and we can actually thank one of the commenters on that article for turning me on to these Rayo lamps. They use more oil of course, but for light, they totally blow the flat wick away.
From what I can tell so far, the only downside to the Rayo is that they are not currently in production. I have tried to source them in China, but surprisingly you can get the inferior Kronos lamp in Chinese repro, but not a Rayo.
I have been able to buy about 15 Rayos for this article on Ebay, and the prices range from about $15 for a rough one, right up to $150 for a really clean one with a chimney and shade. Just beware that most of the current listings on Ebay are for **electrified** Rayos. You don’t want those. See the pictures here and the accompanying video, and you will understand the key parts you should look for to make sure that your lamp is complete. The burner is one piece, with an integral wick raiser and crank. The flame spreader is a standalone part, and I have yet to receive a fount/draft tube base that leaks. There are currently several on Ebay in the $30-$60 range depending on condition, plus shipping, and there are maybe half a dozen in the $130-$150 range complete.
It was a difficult decision for me to release this article before my Aladdin lamp article, because after all, we do have 800,000 subscribers here, and there are only a handful of Rayo (and even other center draft) lamps on Ebay right now. The Aladdin lamp is in current production, and is a stalwart of the Amish community. It burns a round wick as well, but the new Aladdins don’t have a center draft tube. They draw air from the sides in a unique and nifty design. But the problem I have had with the Aladdin is that they are quirky. If the wick isn’t perfectly trimmed, you get black spots on the mantle, and the mantle design itself is a bit dainty for survival. I have some video shot already of my Aladdins, and it’s funny because I’m trying to show you how to use them and I can’t get them to run right. For my regular readers here, just go buy a Rayo and some wicks. You will never say oh darnit I should have waited and gotten an Aladdin.
The video is longish, but I wanted to show you the things to look for in the lamps, including some other center draft designs that are a lot like the Rayo, but not exact. Some center draft lamps are collectible, and I didn’t include any of those. There is actually a guild of lamp researchers, and one of them wrote a book on center draft designs. Apparently he passed away, because the collection used for the book was recently liquidated on Ebay, and some of the lamps you see here were from that collection. As you’ll see from the video, you have to be very careful when you buy a lamp that isn’t an actual Rayo. But sometimes they are also a great buy because nobody is searching for them.
I haven’t yet done any oil life measurements with the Rayos. Suffice it to say, more light equals more oil, and that is why I think these lamps are best used as an alternate heat source as well as for light. Long nights happen in the winter, when heat is a desirable outcome of light. Rayos throw some serious BTUs. I would say at least 3,000. In the summer, when you don’t want the heat, go to bed, or use a flat wick to read.
Upcoming, I hope to cover the different options we have out there for fuels. For these Rayo lamps, I have tested regular $2.29 a gallon gas pump low sulfur diesel against $20 per gallon and up “lamp oil” and there is no difference whatsoever in the quality of the light, the lighting ability, production of smoke, or even smell. Lamp oil is perhaps a slightly finer distillate than diesel, but not of any substance that you need to worry about for these lamps. Diesel has no explosive fumes like gasoline, and you can store it in any HDPE container, include 275/330 gallon IBC totes, as I showed you in my water articles. According to Federal Law, there is no regulation on fuel storage tanks under 550 gallons, so your local home heating oil (which is also diesel) or diesel delivery company (for farms and commercial trucking) should agree to deliver as many IBC totes worth of fuel as you care to fill right to your door. I haven’t found a better survival option in fuel storage.
The Rayo lamp was clearly built to last “forever.” The wicks are cheap, and they seem to last a long time if you blow the lamp out every time you burn, rather than let it run dry. As I explained in the video, the cheapest wicks are at Lehmans, though they have come up in price since I bought them. Now they are like $5 each. The ones without the red stripe on Ebay are twice the price, but a little easier to use because they are more snug. How many more candlepower will you get from a snug wick at twice the price? None more. None more candlepower most likely. So take that for what it’s worth.
Just remember, you must use a chimney with these lamps. As I showed in the video, without a chimney, these lamps are useless smokey torches. Get a few extra. You want the 2 5/8ths size. I have found one Rayo so far that had a slightly wider base. It was probably an outsourced batch. The 2 5/8ths chimney works fine on it. You just sit it on top. A 3″ chimney, which is the size of most flatwick burners, is too big. There are very few other issues to watch for. In my experience, which at this point is probably almost extensive as the guy who wrote that book, all but an occasional Rayo lamp works. Otherwise people just throw them away. Americans.